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Keep Bookering on

Keep Bookering on

Global pandemic or not, The Booker Prizes keep calm and carry on. As The International Booker Prize hots up, it is not going to let the small matter of national and international lockdown stand in its way. The shortlist announcement was due to be made on 2nd April and it will be. Not admittedly with the bells and whistles that usually come with the big reveal, and no champagne will be drunk (except by the shortlistees, their agents and publishers in maximum groups of two) or canapés nibbled as at the fabled Booker Prize parties of yore. All that though is just for the sense of occasion and the joy of celebration. The six shortlisted novels will be named instead via the prize website and social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube (@TheBookerPrizes) at 12 midday BST. The shortlist announcements are little episodes of literary history and in 10 or 20 years’ time when these turbulent times are a distant memory, you’ll be able to look back and say: “I was there.”

One of those judges for the International Booker Prize who have been reading away, business as normal, is Valeria Luiselli. The Mexican writer already has immaculate literary credentials but these have just been bolstered by her scooping the £30,000 Rathbone’s Folio Prize for her novel Lost Children Archive. In what is rapidly becoming the new normal, the chair of judges Paul Farley announced Luiselli’s win from his home in Lancashire while the triumphant recipient herself was in New York for the good news.

As bookshops, like the rest of us, start to come to terms with the ramifications of COVID-19, one Australian bookstore has put itself ahead of the game. Hares and Hyenas, Melbourne’s “iconic queer book shop and café”, has closed for the immediate future. No surprise there, given the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean the staff are sitting idle. The bookshop is now offering a “Books by Bike” free home delivery service. One of the books it is proud to deliver is the current Booker Prize co-winner Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo because it features “a black lesbian playwright and a non-binary social media influencer”.

Evaristo’s co-winner, Margaret Atwood, hardly needs another accolade. Nevertheless, she’s just picked up one. She has just been given Stylist magazine’s “Icon of the Year” award. Thanks to COVID-19, she couldn’t come to London to pick it up in person, something that clearly rankled with the great Canadian. “Many kinds of artists are glamorous,” she said, “for actors and singers it’s part of the job – but writers are not among them. We often feel shy or odd when out in public, since our craft is a solitary one and we are alone when writing. We put words on paper, and these words talk to others when we aren’t there. So I was looking forward to creeping out of my writing burrow for a few hours, putting on some clothes that were not dressing gowns, and hearing what the various generations of young people are up to these days.” Thanks to modern technology, the world’s young people can let Atwood know what they are up to and she can listen, either in a ball gown or her dressing gown.

A gem from the 2008 Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga. Five years before he hit the big time with The White Tiger, Adiga was a journalist with a nice line in magazine interviews. In 2003 one of his subjects was a man called Donald Trump, a businessman with an interest in property who was then planning a new television series, called The Apprentice. “I remember thinking it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard,” says Adiga. “I thought, ‘This man is finished.’” A chastened Adiga now recalls that he learnt two lessons that day: take risks and never underestimate Trump. “Everyone thinks his ideas are dumb, but hey, you never know.”